Google has finally released "made by Google" smartphones, but they did not spring up from scratch. The Pixel XL's closest relative is the Huawei-manufactured, Google-overseen Nexus 6P. What are the differences between last year's well-reviewed Nexus 6P and the first phablet to bear the Google name?
If the Pixel is XL, then the Nexus 6P is ... jumbo? The 6P is nearly 3-percent taller and wider than the Pixel, though they are of equal thickness. Both phones fall squarely in phablet territory, with big screens great for internet use and video playback, but are perhaps too large to fit comfortably in smaller hands or tote along during a workout.
While the Nexus is just a little bit larger, it's almost 6-percent heavier.
Both phones are built with an aircraft-grade aluminum unibody. Pixel's take is a little more understated and minimal, with a simple "G" logo and a glossy section at the top portion of the back. The Nexus 6P is more adventurous, with a glassy black camera bump-out and prominent branding.
Both phones stick to the neutral/metallic color palette we're used to seeing in smartphones. The Nexus has more options, but Pixel offers a blue color, which is the most novel variant of the bunch.
The few millimeters in extra height and width afford the Nexus a 3.5-percent larger display.
Both displays have 2,560 x 1,400 Quad HD resolution. Since the Pixel has a smaller display, its pixels are slightly more dense.
Both flagships choose AMOLED technology over IPS displays.
Unlike Apple, Android manufacturers have yet to incorporate pressure-sensitive displays into their phones. Apple uses this technology to enable 3D Touch, a navigational feature that prompts different shortcuts depending on how hard you press the touchscreen.
Google touts the Pixel's camera as the "highest rated smartphone camera. Ever." But until we take a few test shots, it's unclear how it surpasses the very good camera in last year's Nexus 6P, with which it shares several matching specs.
Camera aperture (rear)
Camera aperture has a big impact on how well a smartphone is able to shoot in low light conditions. Both of these phones have a f/2.0 aperture. Although that's fairly large, it's not industry-leading.
Optical image stabilization
Optical image stabilization is conspicuously absent from these phones. When it comes to battling camera shake and unwanted photo blur, you'll need either an exceptionally steady hand or a stable stand to shoot from.
Although these two batteries look identical (both are a rather large 3,450 mAh size) their estimated battery life does not compare. Pixel XL users can expect up to 32 hours of talk time and up to 14 hours of internet use or video playback. On the other hand, Nexus 6P offers up to 23 hours of talk time and up to 10 hours of internet use or video playback. Clearly, battery size alone does not a long-lived smartphone make.
Both phones use the newer, reversible USB-C port over proprietary cables like Apple's Lightning or older technology like microUSB.
According to Google, the Pixel XL will get up to seven hours of use from a 15-minute charge. Nexus 6P makes the same claim, but in 10 minutes of charging.
Nexus has toyed with wireless charging in the past, but that feature didn't make the cut for either of these phones.
The Pixel XL has a newer Snapdragon chip with a higher clock speed.
The Pixel is also better equipped for rigorous software applications, with 4-gigabytes of RAM to the 6P's 3-gigabytes.
Both phones are available in 32- and 128-gigabyte sizes. The Nexus adds an intermediary 64-gigabyte option as well.
Serious Android users may be vexed to learn that neither of these devices have expandable storage. The Samsung Galaxy S7 series may be your best option if you need microSD to manage your content.
VR compatibility is one of the major differentiators between these two flagships. Thanks in part to its updated processor and ample RAM, Pixel XL is Google Daydream-ready out of the box.
The Nexus 6P should not be considered Daydream-ready. This may come as a surprise, considering that the 6P is currently the only supported headset phone in the Daydream development kit. But as Google tells developers, the "6P's thermal performance is not representative of the consumer Daydream-ready phones ... expect the 6P to thermally throttle CPU and performance after a short period of use, depending on workload."
No need to plan for a new set of earbuds or an intermediary adapter. These phones have the tried-and-true designated headphone jack.
It's safe to say that fingerprint sensors are sticking around for the foreseeable future. Both phones place theirs on the back.
Neither phone has a physical home button. Instead, the home buttons are onscreen, taking up a small bit of real estate at the bottom of the display.
Both phones are NFC-equipped, so you can use Android Pay at participating retailers.
Google Assistant is another one of the Pixel's distinguishing characteristics. The Pixel and Pixel XL are the first phone to have this spiffed-up Siri alternative built in.
From what we can tell, Google Assistant is a more ambitious version of Google Now. We'll certainly include our thoughts on Google Assistant when we post our full-length review of the Pixel in the near future.
As the first Google-branded phone, the Pixel is at the forefront of Android operating system updates. It launches with Android 7.1, the absolute latest in Nougat. It is guaranteed to receive all software updates for two years and security updates for three years (from launch).
Prior to Pixel, Nexus always carried the torch for Android software releases. In the near future, we expect it to continue to be ahead of the curve, even if it is a little behind the Pixels. As of now, Nexus 6P is still running 7.0 Nougat, with a 7.1 update expected near the end of the year.
Pixels are just starting to ship now. Nexus 6P is already a year old.
Starting price (full retail)
Based on specs alone, these two phones are quite competitive. That's why it can be downright surprising to discover that Pixel XL is almost US$200 more than the Nexus 6P. And that's based on full retail pricing – now that the Nexus is a year old, it can easily be found at a discount.
On paper, the Pixel's biggest advantages are Google Assistant, VR compatibility and a little more processing power. It may be easy to dismiss those features in favor of a little extra cash in your wallet, especially considering that when all is said and done, the Nexus 6P is an excellent phone.
However, we do expect the Pixel to have some advantages that don't translate into facts and figures. Since it's the first phone to bear the Google banner, we are eager to see if it provides a hardware/software harmony that edges out other Android environments and challenges Apple's iOS walled garden. Of course, we also want to evaluate the camera with test shots instead of specs.